Here’s a good read on it. It’s carbon-based — it’s actually essentially pure carbon, which sounds like something a meth head might say — and is the thinnest, strongest material in the world. That ain’t enough for you? It conducts electricity the same as or better than copper. We can put it in semiconductors, and eventually it might allow astronauts to enter space in semi-normal clothes. The problem was, the way graphene interacts with secondary layers can drastically change its functioning, so someone needed to come along and create a graphene substrate that would be more effective for actual civilization use, which is what this paper is about the process of doing.
The history of graphene goes back to roughly 1859, although advances in the science have only been made since 1947. The science world is in deep love with it, which is logical, since it honestly might change the world. It could also help with a more robust transition to solar energy, as detailed here:
The amazing properties of graphene don’t just stop there. Graphene is nontoxic, inexpensive and completely transparent. When combined with its ability to conduct electricity, these features would make it perfect for use in the future production of solar cells. The graphene would allow light to shine through it, while still being able to conduct the electronic flow required for solar cells to operate more efficiently.
There’s even an “investment bubble” around the substance now, although ironically, despite being developed in the UK, graphene might not help the UK’s economy. (Others dispute that claim.) On that first Guardian link there’s an amazing stat about how graphene work went from level 1 (2004) to Nobel Prize in six years; Einstein’s Nobel took sixteen. That’s how much the science community loves graphene.
Think about this, because it’s a little bit amazing: life can be really complicated in a lot of ways, but some of the most basic things are the simplest. For example, a healthy diet and an unhealthy diet are really just $1.50 a day apart; now, if you extrapolate that out, it’s about $550 a year, which seems more daunting — but still, the difference between two drastically different outcomes is only six quarters. Same concept with graphene: something that’s 1 million times smaller than a strand of human hair is literally going to change how we design and price consumable electronics and possibly how we extract energy from the sun. Sometimes, the smallest gaps make the most impact. It’s really weird to think about because daily way of life is usually focused on bigger elements, bigger pictures, etc — but it’s not always that.
Honestly, it will change the way we live. Get this: “it would take an elephant, balancing on a pencil, to break through graphene that’s only the thickness of Saran Wrap.” That’s some context for ya! And, uh, this is a bit scary, but it has some Wolverine-type qualities too. Some believe it could make the Internet up to 100 times faster, and could lower cell phone prices to the point that Digicel might have some new clients. As noted above, the gap from innovation to market is a concern, as is the timeline of next steps (this won’t all happen this week, for example). But the future is extremely strong, especially in light of these newer developments.
If you have $225, you can get in on the graphene ground floor with a tennis racket. Meanwhile, if graphene batteries can become a thing in the next five-ten years, your computer could likely be fully charged in 16 seconds.
This is a huge thing, from a small beginning. Really interesting to see how it evolves to change the world. (The solar power idea alone would be awesome, but getting our gadgets faster and cheaper would be nice too.)